Monday, October 26, 2009

Digital Stranger Danger

I’m no Annie Leibovitz, but I know my way around a camera and I make pretty good use of Flickr, one of the leading photo sharing sites on the Web.

As a sharing and networking platform, Flickr is pretty amazing. It’s a great source for feedback and inspiration on your photos – and I’ve even sold a few of my images. But every now and then, it’s a little disconcerting to realize how open all your images are to the reset of the world.

Flickr offers varying levels of privacy and copyright settings, but any fifth grader can figure out how to pull an otherwise “protected” image from the Internet. I’ve even pulled a few for work and school projects. But it wasn’t until Gothamist nabbed a photo of mine that it really hit home.

It really makes you think about what you post on the Web. Especially when it comes to friends, family and colleagues.

We’ve all heard about the hazards of posting photos of yourself from last night’s bender on Facebook. I think we all get the idea of erring on the side of prudence with that sort of thing.

But now as I get older and friends start to get married, I’m starting to see more and more friends posting innocent and sometimes painfully cute photos of their kids online. Thanks for sharing, but have you thought it through?

Yesterday, the New York Times explored the varying points of view on posting kids’ photos online. Mostly, they agreed on one thing – no bathtub photos – but that’s about it.

Many parents view issues of Web privacy are simply a modern reality that they need to accept and live with. One mom said “Hundreds of kids die in swimming pools every year, but we don’t shut down all the pools.”

Still others keep their kids on digital lock-down. A mother, so paranoid about privacy that she wouldn’t even give her name for the Times piece, recently caused an awkward situation with a friend who posted a picture of her son on Facebook.

Maybe there’s a happy medium between the total laissez-faire and witness protection approaches.

According to the Times: Regardless of what danger may come to your children by posting pictures, there is one hazard whose existence no one can question: other parents. And their wrath could be enough to make anyone think twice before posting photos of little Charlie’s fourth birthday party.

I think about my own four-year-old niece. She’s a photogenic little girl who already has a bigger digital footprint than many of my friends. Should we be worried about her online privacy? Maybe.

Are we over-thinking this a bit? According to some, we are. Via the Times:

Prof. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, says TV shows like the “Dateline NBC” program, “To Catch a Predator,” have falsely inflated the danger of the Internet.

“Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online,” said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute. While the debate makes this crime seem common, he said, all the talk is really just “techno-panic.”

My sense is there’s always going to be danger for kids, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to help navigate and educate according to what’s appropriate for the individual child. Looking back, there was always that one mom who couldn’t let their kid go to the mall without a chaperone – and that one who barely knew where their kid was. It’s the same here – just online.

1 comment:

  1. I'm waiting for you to take my pictures and post everywhere...but I love publicity. Children and the internet do not mix. Did Gothamist give you a shout-out at least? Also, did you adjust your settings on Flickr for Common Usage rights, etc?